On Feb. 6, 2020, the Inter-American Dialogue hosted “OAS Secretary General Candidate Series: María Fernanda Espinosa,” a public event with María Fernanda Espinosa, former President of the 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly from 2018 to 2019. Espinosa is one of three declared candidates in the elections for Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), which will take place on March 20, 2020. Michael Camilleri, director of the Peter D. Bell Rule of Law Program at the Dialogue, moderated the discussion.
Minister Espinosa started the event talking about the three reasons of her candidacy: the need for modernization of the OAS, the importance of enhancing hemispheric community and citizenship, and the recognition of her credentials and long-time professional and academic career. Espinosa claimed that it was about time, after 71 years, for the OAS to have a female Secretary General who takes the lead on the most important hemispheric platform and represents the interest of the member states.
Even though the OAS is the preeminent hemispheric organization, it has a small budget in comparison to other international organizations. In response of a questions about the challenges on rebalancing in the OAS pillars, Minister Espinosa recognized that there was a budget constraint, but the mandates should be prioritized in crucial areas such as multidimensional security and development. She noted that the financial challenge was not the problem, it was a symptom. She then expressed her commitment to rebalance the contributions of the member states to diversify responsibility and ownership within the organization.
Minister Espinosa stated that, if elected, her priorities were going to be based on the OAS charter and the opinion of member states. During the conversation, Espinosa stressed the urgency to address climate change as it is a survival issue for the Caribbean and Coastal countries in the region. The minister said that the OAS should add value to climate change practices in terms of intelligence gathering, accessibility to climate finance, and improving the capacity of the member states to address climate change. Espinosa also brought up migration and the main role of the OAS in facilitating conversations on best practices, preventive approaches and combatting human trafficking in the region. She stressed the need for the OAS to create a positive agenda that united the member states and eradicated polarization.
Camilleri shifted the conversation to Venezuela, and asked about Espinosa’s approach to the crisis and how it would differ from the current Secretary General. Espinosa stated that the Venezuela crisis deserves attention from the OAS, but that there is an urgent need to refresh the organization’s approach. The minister opined that a Secretary General must act in compliance with international law and the procedures of the organization, and said that she would act with strong leadership, impartially, without expressing her personal views on issues.
Camilleri then turned to Espinosa’s career during Rafael Correa’s presidency in Ecuador, asking whether the minister had any exposure when Correa’s government launched a campaign to weaken freedom of expression from 2011-2012. Espinosa responded that she was not a participant in those decisions, instead, acting as the Permanent Representative of Ecuador to the UN in Geneva.
Lastly, Espinosa expressed her concern about the managerial health of the OAS, outlining seven points to improve the management of the organization, and ten themes to delineate the work for the next five years. In her assessment of the operation of the organization, Espinosa said that the administrative and financial health of the OAS could improve, and that there must be put in place a mechanism for accountability, transparency, good communication, and access to the information. The minister claimed that she is willing to address gender parity and geographical balance initiatives within the staff of the OAS. Her proposal will center on the modernization of the management, the priorities for programming and the code of ethics of the OAS.
The event ended with a Q&A session in which Minister Espinosa was asked to expand on her gender parity initiatives for regional institutions, the intervention of the IACHR in Venezuela, multidimensional security in the region, and freedom of expression. This event marked the first of the OAS Secretary General Candidate Series.
WATCH THE FULL RECORDING OF THE EVENT HERE: